There’s no doubt that persecution is a stark reality of living the Christian life. The apostle Paul warned us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus told us to expect persecution from the world because if they persecuted Him, they will persecute His followers also. Jesus has made it very clear to us that those of the world will hate us because they hate Him. If Christians were like the world—vain, earthly, sensual, and given to pleasure, wealth, and ambition—the world would not oppose us. But Christians do not belong to the world which is why they hate and persecute us (John 15:18-19). Christians are, or should be, influenced by different principles from those of the world. We are motivated by the love of God and holiness, while the world is driven by the love of sin. It is our very separation from the world that arouses the world’s animosity toward us. The world would prefer that we were like them; since we are not, they hate us (1 Peter 4:3-4).
As faithful Christians, we must learn to recognize the value of persecution and even to rejoice in it, not in an ostentatious way, but quietly and humbly because persecution has great spiritual value. First, persecution allows us to share in a unique fellowship with our Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul outlined a number of things he surrendered for the cause of Christ. Such losses, however, he viewed as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8), or “dung” (KJV), that he might share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The noble apostle even counted his chains as a grace (favor) which God had bestowed upon him (Philippians 1:7).
Second, in all truth, persecution is good for us. James argues that trials test our faith, work or develop (endurance) in our lives, and help develop maturity (James 1:2-4). For as steel is tempered in the flames of the forge, trials and persecution serve to hone down those rough edges that tarnish our character. Yielding graciously to persecution allows one to demonstrate that he is of a superior quality than his adversaries. It’s easy to be hateful, but an ugly disposition throws a light upon our human weakness. It is much more Christ-like to remain calm and to respond in kindness in the face of evil opposition. Without question this is a tremendous challenge, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us and the wonderful example of the Lord to encourage us. Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Third, persecution enables us to value the support of true friends. Conflict sometimes brings faithful children of God together in an encouraging and supportive way they might not have known otherwise. Hardship can stimulate the Lord’s people toward a greater resolve to love and comfort one another and lift one another to the throne of grace in prayer. There’s nothing like an unpleasant incident to help the more mature rise toward a greater level of brotherly love.
So, when we think about it seriously, we can move ourselves forward, even in the face of antagonism, whether from the world or within the church, and press on. We can thank God for His grace and for His patience with us. We can express gratitude for those whom we love in the Lord and who stand with us in times of distress. And we can pray for those who would accuse, misuse, or abuse us (2 Corinthians 11:24; Romans 10:1).
Recommended Resource: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe.